Topic: Palvinder Kaur vs The State Of Punjab - cannot amount to confession

a statement that contains self-exculpatory matter which if true would negate the matter or offence, cannot amount to confession.

Palvinder Kaur vs The State Of Punjab
Equivalent citations: 1952 AIR 354, 1952 SCR 94 - Bench: Mahajan, Mehr Chand, Aiyar, N. Chandrasekhara, Bhagwati, Natwarlal H. - Citation: 1952 AIR 354 1952 SCR 94 - Citator Info: A 1960 SC 409 (8), RF 1965 SC1413 (5,13), R 1966 SC 119 (12), F 1968 SC 829 (6), D 1969 SC 422 (19,21), R 1972 SC 66 (12,13), D 1975 SC1925 (42,43,44), F 1976 SC1167 (15), RF 1976 SC1797 (6), R 1979 SC 154 (42), R 1979 SC 826 (22), R 1990 SC 79 (19) - Date Of Judgment: 22/10/1952


Criminal trial-Circumstantial    evidence-Duty of courts to safeguard themselves against basing decision     suspicions- ConfesSion'-Must be accepted or rejected as a whole-Self exculpatory statement containing admission of incriminating facts-Admission     of incriminating portion as true rejecting exculpatory portion as false -Legality-Indian    Penal Code, 1860, s. 201-Essential ingredients of offence.


In eases depending circumstantial evidence courts should safeguard themselves against the danger of basing _their conclusions suspicions howsoever strong. Rex V. Hodge (1838) 2 Lew. 227, and Nargundkar v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1952) S.C.R. 1091 referred to, 95

To establish a charge under s. 201, Indian Penal Code, it is essential to prove that an offence has been committed (mere suspicion that     it has been committed is not    sufficient); that the accused knew or had reason to believe that    such offence     had been committed ; and that with the requisite knowledge and with the intent to screen the offender    from legal punishment the accused caused the evidence thereof to disappear or gave false information respecting such offence knowing     or having reason to believe the same to be, false. Where the evidence showed that a person had died, that     his body was found in &,trunk and was discovered in a well     and that the accused took part in the disposal of the body     but there was no evidence to show the cause of his death or     the manner    or circumstances in which it came about: Held,    that the accused could not be convicted for an offence under s.


A statement that contains self exculpatory matter cannot amount to a confession, if the exculpatory matter is of some fact, which if true would negative the offence alleged to be confessed. A    confession must either admit in terms     the offence     or at any rate substantially all the     facts    that constitute the offence.

Narayanaswami v. Emperor (1939) 66 I.A. 66, referred to. It is a well accepted rule regarding the use of     confessions and admissions that these must either be accepted as a whole or rejected as a whole and that the court is not competent to accept only the inculpatory part while rejecting     the exculpatory part as inherently incredible. Emperor v. Balmukand (1930) I.L.R. 52 All. 1011, followed. Where the statement made by     the accused contained an admission that she had placed the dead body of her husband in a trunk and bad carried it in a jeep and thrown it into a well, but with regard to the cause     of the death     the statement made by her was that her husband bad accidently taken a poisonous substance which was     meant    for washing photos    erroneously thinking it to be a medicine: Held,     the statement read as a whole was exculpatory in character     and the whole statement was inadmissible in evidence and     the High Court acted erroneously in accepting the former part of it and rejecting the latter part as false. Judgment of the High Court of Punjab reversed.


CRIMINAL APPELLATE, JURISDICTION: Criminal Appeal No. 41 of 1952.    Appeal by Special Leave from the Judgment and Order dated the 3rd     October,, 1951, of the High Court     of Judicature for the State of Punjab at Simla (Bhandari     and Soni-JJ     in Criminal Appeal No. 86 of 1961, arising out of the Judgment and Order dated the, 31st January, 1951, of the Court of the Sessions Judge, Ambala, in Case No. 23 of'1950 and Trial No. 2 of 1951,


Jai GopalSethi (B. L. Kohli with him) for the Appellant. H.S. Gujral, for the respondent. Bhagat Singh    Chawla,     for the Caveator.

1952. October 22. The judgment 0f the Court was delivered by

MAHAJAN     J.-Palvinder Kaur,was tried for offences under sections 302 and 201, Indian Penal Code, in connection    with the murder of her husband, Jaspal Singh. She was convicted by -the Sessions Judge under section, 302 and sentenced to transportation for life. No verdict was recorded regarding the charge under section 201, Indian Penal Code. appeal to the High Court she was acquitted of the charge of murder, but was convicted under section 201, Indian Penal Code,     and sentenced to seven years' rigorous Imprisonment. Her appeal by special leave is now before us.

Jaspal Singh, deceased, was the son of the Chief     of Bhareli     (Punjab). He was married to Palvinder Kaur a     few years ago and they had two children. The. husband and    wife were living together in Bhareli house, Ambala.     It is    said that Jaspal's    relations with his father and    grandfather, were not very     cordial and the two elders thought    that Palvinder Kaur was responsible, for this. It is also    said that Jaspal lived the allowance he got from his father and supplemented his income by selling milk and eggs and by doing some odd jobs.    Mohinderpal Singh (a fugitive    from justice) who is related to the appellant and was employed as a storekeeper in Baldevnagar Camp, Ambala, used occasionally to reside in Bhareli house. It is suggested that he     had started a liaison with Palvinder.

The prosecution case is     that Sardar Jaspal    was administered potassium cyanide poison by the appellant     and Mohinderpal the afternoon of the 6th February, 1950.     The dead body was then put into a large trunk and kept in one of the rooms in the house in Ambala city.    About ten days later i.e., the


16th February, 1950, Mohinderpal during the absence of the appellant, removed the trunk from the house in a jeep when he came there with Amrik Singh and Kartar Singh     (P. Ws.), two watermen of the Baldevnagar Camp. The trunk     was then taken to Baldevnagar Camp and was kept in a store room there.     Three    days later,    the 19th February, 1950, Mohinderpal accompanied by Palvinder and a domestic servant, Trilok Chand (P. W. 27), took the trunk a few-miles    the' road leading to Rajpura, got    to a katcha road and in     the vicinity of village Chhat took the jeep to a well a mound and threw, the box into it.     The jeep was    taken to a gurdwara where it was washed.

After the disappearance of the deceased, his father made enquiries from Mohinderpal regarding the'     whereabouts of his     missing son.     Mohinderpal made various false statements to    him.     the 8th March, 1950,     the father advertised in the "Daily Milap" begging his son to return home as soon as possible as the condition of his wife     and children and parents    had become miserable owing to     his absence.

On     the 10th March, 1950, i.e., a, month and ten days after the alleged murder and 19 days after the trunk     was thrown into the well, obnoxious smell was coming out of     the well, and the matter being reported to the lambardars     of' village     Chhat,     the trunk was taken out. The     matter     was reported to the police and Sardar Banta Singh, Sub-Inspector of Police, the 11th March arrived     at the scene     and prepared the inquest report and sent for the doctor.     The postmortem examination     was performed the spot the    next day. No photograph of the body was taken and it was allowed to be    cremated. After more than two and a half months, the 28th April, 1950 th -first information report was lodged against     the appellant and Mohinderpal and the26th June a challan     was presented     in the court     of the committing magistrate Mohinderpal was not traceable and the case     Was started against the appellant alone,


There is no direct evidence to establish that the appellant or Mohinderpal     or both of them administered potassium cyanide     to Jaspal and the evidence regarding the murder is purely circumstantial.    The learned Sessions Judge took     the view that the     circumstantial evidence in the case     was incompatible with the innocence of the accused, and    held that the case against the appellant was proved     beyond     any reasonable doubt. The High Court appeal arrived at a different conclusion.    It held that though the     body found from the well was not capable of identification, the clothes recovered from the trunk and found the body proved that it was the body of Jaspal. It further held that the cause of death could not be ascertained from the medical evidence given in the case. The -evidence the question of     the identity of the dead body consisted of the statement of constable Lachhman 'Singh, of the clothes    and other' articles recovered from inside the trunk and of an alleged confession of the accused. As regards the first piece of evidence the High Court expressed the following opinion: "There is     in our opinion considerable force in    the contention that not only are foot constable Lachhman Singh and Assistant Sub-Inspector Banta Singh testifying to     the facts which are false to their knowledge but that     the -prosecution are responsible for deliberately introducing a false witness and for asking the other witnesses to support the story narrated by Lachhman Singh that he identified the body to be that of Jaspal Singh the 11th March     and communicate the information to the father of the deceased the following day.)'

As regards the extra-judicial confessions alleged to.    have been made to Sardar Rup Singh and Sardar Balwant Singh, father    and grandfather of the deceased, they were    held inadmissible and unreliable.     The confession made     by Palvinder to the magistrate,     the 15th April, 1950,     was however used in evidence against her the following reasoning:

"It is true that strictly speaking exculpatory     statements in which the prisoner denies her guilt cannot 99

be regarded as confessions, but these statements are often used as circumstantial evidence of guilty consciousness by showing them to be false and fabricated."

It was also found that though Palvinder might have desired to continue her illicit intrigue with Mohinderpal she     may not have desired to sacrifice her wealth and-    position at the altar of love. She may have had' a motive to kill     her husband     but a stronger motive to preserve her own position as the wife of a prospective chief of Bhareli and that in this situation it was by no means impossible that the murder was committed by Mohinderpal alone without the consent     and knowledge of Palvinder, and that though a strong suspicion attached to Palvinder, it was impossible to     state    with confidence that poison was administered by her. Therefore it was not possible to convict her under section 302, Indian Penal Code.

Concerning the charge under section 201, Indian Penal Code, the High Court held    that the most important piece of evidence in support of the charge was the confession which Palvinder made     the 15th April, 1950, and this     confession, though     retracted, was corroborated     this     point     by independent evidence and established the charge. The judgment of the High Court was impugned before us     a large number of grounds. Inter alia, it was contended    that in examining Palvinder Kaur at great length the High Court contravened the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure and that the Full Bench decision of the High Court in Dhara Singh's     case(1) was    wrong in law,     that the alleged confession of the appellant being an. exculpatory statement, the same was inadmissible in evidence and could not be    used as evidence against her, that it had been contradicted in most material particulars by the prosecution evidence itself and was false and that in any case it could not be    used piecemeal; that the offences under sections 302/34 and    201, Indian Penal Code, being distinct offences committed at     two different times and being

(1) (I952) 54 P.L.R, 58,


separate transactions, the appellant having been convicted of the offence under section 302, Indian Penal Code, only by     the Session Judge, the High Court had no jurisdiction when acquitting her of that offence to, convict her under section 201 of the same Code; that the statements of Mohinderpal to 'various witnesses land his conduct    were not relevant against the appellant; that Karamchand and Mst. Lachhmi were in the nature of accomplices and the High Court erred in relying their testimony without any corrobora- tion; that the High Court having disbelieved eight of     the witnesses of the prosecution and having held that they    were falsely     introduced into the case, the investigation being extremely belated and the story having been developed at different stages, the High Court should not    have relied the same; and lastly that the- pieces of circumstantial evidence proved against the appellant were consistent    with several     innocent explanations and the High Court therefore erred in relying them without excluding those possi- bilities.

The decision of the appeal, in our view, lies within a very narrow compass and it is not necessary to pronounce all the points that were-argued before us. In our judgment, there is no evidence'to establish affirmatively that     the death of Jaspal was caused by potassium cyanide and    that being so, the charge under section 201, Indian Penal Code, must also fail.' The High Court in reaching     a contrary conclusion not only acted suspicions and conjectures     but inadmissible evidence.,

The circumstances in which Jaspal died will for ever remain    shrouded in mystery and     the material placed     the record    it is not possible to unravel them. It may well be that he was murdered by Mohinderpal without the knowledge or consent     of Palvinder    and the incident took place     at Baldevnagar Camp and not at the house and that     Mohinderpal alone disposed of the dead body and that the confession of Palvinder is wholly false and the advertisement issued in Milap correctly reflected the facts


so far     as she was concerned.     The evidence    led by     the prosecution, however,    is of such a    character that     no, reliance can be-placed     it and no affirmative     conclusions can be drawn from it.    The remarks of the Sessions Judge; that the consequences had definitely revealed that justice could not always be procured by wealth and other worldly resources and that the case would perhaps go down in history as one of the most sensational cases because of the parties involved and the gruesome way"in which the     murder     was committed, disclose a frame     of mind not     necessarily judicial. It was unnecessary to introduce sentimentalism in a judicial decision. The High Court was not able to reach a positive conclusion that Palvinder was responsible for     the murder of her husband.

Whether Jaspal committed suicide or died of poison taken under a mistake or whether poison was administared to him by the appellant or by Mohinderpal or by both of    them are questions the answers to which have been left very vague and indefinite by the circumstantial evidence in the case. In view of the situation of the parties and    the belated investigation of the case and the sensation it created, it was absolutely necessary for the courts below to safeguard them. selves against the danger of basing their     conclusions suspicions howsoever strong.    It. Seems to us that     the trial court, &Ad to a certain extent the High    Court,    fell into the same error against which warning was given by Baron Alderson in Beg. v. Hodge(1), where he said as follows:- The mind    was apt to take a pleasure     in adapting circumstances to one another, and even in straining them a little, if need be, to force them to form parts of one connected whole; and the more ingenious the mind of     the individual, the more    likely    was it, considering    such matters, to overreach and mislead itself, to supply    some little    link that is wanting, to take for granted some    fact consistent with its previous theories and necessary to render them complete."

(1) (1838) 2 Lew. 227.


We had     recently occasion to     emphasize this point     in Nargundkar v. The State of Madhya Pradesh(1). In order to establish the charge under section 201, Indian Penal Code, it is essential to prove that an offence has been committed-mere suspicion that it has been committed is not sufficient,that the accused knew or had reason to believe     that such offence had been committed- and with     the requisite-knowledge and with    the intent to     screen     the offender from legal punishment causes the evidence thereof to disappear or gives false information respecting    such offences knowing or having reason to believe the same to be false.     It was essential in these circumstances for the prosecution to     establish affirmatively that the death of Jaspal was caused by the administration of potassium cyanide by some person (the appellant having been acquitted of    this charge)     and that she had reason to believe that it was so caused    and with that     knowledge she     took part in     the concealment and 'disposal of the dead body. There is no evidence whatsoever this point. The following facts, that Jaspal    died, that his body was found in a trunk and     was discovered from a well and that the appellant took part in the disposal of the body do not establish the cause of     his death or the    manner and circumstances in which it    came about.     As already stated, there is no direct evidence to prove that potassium cyanide was administered to him by     any person.     The best evidence this question would have    been that of the doctor who performed the postmortem examination. That evidence does not prove that Jaspal died as a result of administration of potassium cyanide.    the other hand,     the doctor    was of     the opinion that there were    no positive postmortem signs which could suggest poisoning. He stated that potassium cyanide being corrosive poison, would produce hypermia, softening and ulceration of the gastro-intestinal track and that in this case he did not notice any    such signs.    He further said that potassium cyanide corrodes     the lips and the mouth, and none of these signs was     the body. This evidence

(1) [1952] S.C.R, 1091


therefore instead of    proving that death was caused by administration of potassium cyanide, to the extent it. goes, negatives that fact.

The High Court placed reliance     the confession of Palvinder made the 15th April, 1950, to bold this fact proved.     The confession is in these terms:-

"My husband Jaspal Singh was fond of hunting as well as of photography. From hunting whatever skins (khalls)     he brought     home he became fond of colouring them. He    also began to do the work of washing of photos out of eagerness. One day in December, 1949, Jaspal Singh said to my cousin (Tay's    son) Mohinderpal Singh to, get him material     for washing photos.     He(Mohinderpal Singh) said to Harnam Singh, who is     head clerk in Baldevnagar Camp, to bring the    same from,the Cantt. Harnam Singh went    to the     Cantt.     and return    said that the material for washing photos could be had only by a responsible Government official.     He told so to Mohinderpat Singh, who said that Harnam Singh should take his name and get the medicine.    Thereupon Harnam Singh    went to the     Cantt.     and brought the medicine. I kept    this medicine.     As the medicine wassticking to the paper I put it in water in a     small    bottle    and kept it in     the almirah. In those days my husband was in Ambala and I lived with him in the kothi in the city. He went for hunting     for 2-3 days and there he developed abdominal trouble and began to purge. He sent for medicine 3-4 days from Dr. Sohan Singh.    One day I placed his medicine bottle in the almirah where medicine, for washing photos had been placed. I     was sitting outside and Jaspal Singh enquired from me where     his medicine, was.     I told him that it was in the almirah.     By mistake     he took that medicine which was meant    for washing photos.     At that time, he fell down and my little son     was standing by his side.    He said 'Mama, Papa had fallen'. I went inside and saw, that he was in agony and in short time be expired. Thereafter I went to Mohinderpal Singh 104

and told him all that had happened. He said that father of Jaspal    Singh had arrived and that he should be     'intimated. But I    did not tell him, because his connections were     not good with his son and myself.     Out of fear I     placed     his corpse in a box and Mohinderpal Singh helped me in doing so. For 4-5 days the box remained in my kothi. Thereafter I said to Mohinderpal Singh that if he did not help me I would die., He got removed that box from my kothi with the help of my servants and placing the same in his jeep went to     his store in Baldevnagar Camp and kept the same there. That box remained there for 8-10 days. Thereafter one day I went to the camp and from there got placed the trunk in the jeep and going with Mohinderpal Singh I threw the same in a well near Chhat Banur. I do not remember the date when Jaspal Singh took the medicine by mistake.    It was perhaps    in January, 1950."

The    statement read     as a whole is    of an    exculpatory character. It does not suggest or prove the commission of any offence under the Indian Penal Code by any one. It     not only exculpates her from the commission of an    offence     but also exculpates Mohinderpal. It states that the death of Jaspal    was accidental.     The statement does not amount to a confession and     is thus inadmissible in evidence. It was observed by their Lordships    of the     Privy    Council     in Narayanaswami v. Emperor(1) that the word "confession" as used in the Evidence Act cannot be construed as meaning a statement by an accused suggesting the inference that he committed the    crime.    A confession must either admit in terms the offence, or at any rate substantially all     the 'facts    which constitute the offence.    An admission of a gravely     incriminating fact, even     a conclusively, incriminating fact, is not of itself a confession. A statement that     contains self-exculpatory matter 'cannot amount    to a confession, if the exculpatory statement is of some fact, which if true, would negative the offence alleged to be confessed. In this view of the law the High Court (1) (1939) 66 I.A. 66; A.I.R. 1939 P.C. 47: 105

was in error in treating the statement of Palvinder as     the most important piece of evidence in support of     the charge under section 201, Indian Penal' Code.     The learned Judges in one     part of their judgment observed that strictly speaking exculpatory statements in which the prisoner denies her guilt cannot be regarded as confessions, but went     to say that such statements are often used as circumstantial evidence of guilty consciousness by showing them to be false and fabricated.     With great respect we have not been able,to follow    the meaning of these observations and    the learned counsel appearing at the Bar for the prosecution was unable to explain what these words exactly indicated.     The statement not being a confession and being of an exculpatory nature    in which the guilt had been denied by the prisoner, it could not be used as evidence in the case to prove     her guilt.

Not     only was the High Court in error in treating    the alleged confession of Palvinder as evidence in the case     but it was     further in error in accepting a part of it after finding     that the rest of it was false. It said that     the statement that the deceased took poison by mistake should be ruled out of consideration for the simple reason that if the deceased had taken poison by mistake the conduct of the parties     would have been completely different, and that     she would have then run to his side and raised a hue and cry and would have sent immediately for medical aid, that it     was incredible that if the deceased had taken poison by mistake, his wife Would have,stood idly by and allowed him to die. The court thus accepted the     inculpatory part of    that statement and rejected the exculpatory part. In doing so it contravened the well accepted     rule regarding the use of confession and admission that these must either be accepted as a whole or rejected as a whole and that the court is not competent to    accept    only the inculpatory    part while rejecting the    exculpatory part as inherently incredible. Reference in this connection may be made to the observations of the Full Bench of the Allahabad


High Court     in Emperor v.     Balmakund(1),    with which observations we fully concur. The     confession there comprised of two elements, (a) an account of how the accused killed    the women, and (b) an account of his    reasons     for doing so, the     former element being inculpatory and     the latter    exculpatory and the question referred to the    Full Bench was: Can the court if it is of opinion that     the inculpatory part commends belief and the exculpatory part is inherently incredible, act upon the former and refuse to act upon the latter ? The answer -to the    reference was    that where there is no other evidence to show affirmatively    that any portion of the exculpatory element in the confession is false,    the court must accept or reject the confession as a -whole and cannot accept only the inculpatory element while rejecting the exculpatory element as inherently incredible. The alleged confession of Palvinder     is wholly of     an' exculpatory nature and does not admit the commission, of any crime whatsoever. The suspicious circumstances from which an inference of guilt would be drawn were contained in    that part of the statement which concerned the disposal of     the dead body. This part of the statement could not be used as evidence by holding that the first part which     was of an exculpatory character was false when there was no evidence to prove that it was so, and the only material     which it could be so hold was the conduct mentioned in     the latter part of the same statement and stated to be    inconsistent with the earlier part of the confession.

The result therefore is that no use can be made of     the statement made     by Palvinder and contained in    the alleged confession and     which the High Court thought was the    most important piece of evidence in -the case to prove that     the death of Jaspal was caused by poisoning or as a result of an offence     having     been committed. Once    this confession is excluded altogether, there remains no evidence for holding that Jaspal died as a result of the administration of potas- sium cyanide.

(1) (193o) I.L.R. 52 All. 101.


The circumstantial evidence referred to by    the High Court which according to it tends to establish that Jaspal    did not die a natural death is     of the' following nature:     That Palvinder and Mohinderpal had a motive to     get rid of the deceased as -she was carrying- with Mohinderpal. The motive, even if proved in the case, cannot prove     the circumstances under which Jaspal died or the    cause which resulted in his death. - That Mohinderpal was proved to be in possession of a quantity of potassium cyanide and was in a position to     administer it to the deceased     is a    cir- cumstance of a neutral character.    Mere possession of potassium cyanide by Mohinderpal without its being traced in the body of Jaspal cannot establish that his death     was caused by this deadly poison. In any case, the circumstance is not of a character which is wholly incompatible with     the innocence of the appellant. The other evidence referred to by the     High Court as corroborating the latter part of Palvinder's alleged confession in the view of the case    that we have taken does not require any discussion because if the confession--is inadmissible, no question of corroborating it arises.

Mr.    Sethi argued that the statements contained in the     alleged confession are contradicted    rather than corroborated by the evidence led by the prosecution and that the confession is proved to be untrue.    It is unnecessary to discuss     this matter in the view that we have taken of     the case.

The result, therefore, is that we are constrained     to hold that there is no material, direct or indirect, for     the finding     reached by the High Court that the death of Jaspal wascaused by the administration of potassium cyanide. If we believe     the defence version his death was the result of an accident. If that version is disbelieved,then there is no proof as to the cause of his death. The method and manner in which the dead body of Jaspal was dealt with and disposed of raise some suspicion but from these, facts     a positive conclusion cannot be reached that he died an unnatural death necessarily, Cases are not unknown


where death- is accidental and the accused has acted in a peculiar manner regarding the disposal of the dead body     for reasons     best known to himself.     One of them might well be that he was afraid of a false case being started against him. Life and liberty of persons cannot be put in jeopardy mere suspicions, howsoever strong, and they can only be deprived of these the basis of definite proof. In this case, as found by the High Court, not only were the    Sub- Inspector of    police    and police constables     and other witnesses guilty of    telling     deliberate lies but     the prosecution was blameworthy in introducing witnesses in     the case to support their lies and that being so, we feel    that it would be unsafe to convict the appellant the material that is left after eliminating the perjured,, false     and inadmissible evidence.

For the reasons given above we allow this appeal, set aside the conviction of the appellant under section 201, Indian Penal Code, and acquit her of that charge also. Appeal allowed.

Agent for the appellant: Sardar Bahadur. Agent for     the respondent: P.A. Mehta. ,Agent for the caveator: Harbans Singh.